Gullveig (1895) by Lorenz Frølich (Source – Wikipedia)

Gullveig was a member of the earth gods, the Vanir of Vanaheim, who travelled to visit the deities of the sky, the Aesir. She was an expert in the art of seidr, a type of magic that gave her the skill to alter the course of destiny which initially made her very popular amongst the Aesir, many of whom sought her services.

Their desire to use here magic engulfed them, soon making them push aside their usual values such as honour, loyalty and respect for the law in exchange for material things. When they realised this, they blamed Gullveig and instead of concentrating on mending their own ways, they turned on the witch accusing her of being too lustful after gold. They bound her up in Odin’s hall and speared her before burning her three times; however each time they set her alight, she was reborn from the ashes.

The First War in the World

The Vanir were outraged at the treatment of one of their own and demanded compensation, which was not given. As a result, both sides prepared for war and when Odin cast his spear at his foe, the first war the world had ever seen began.

The Aesir Against the Vanir (1882) by Karl Ehrenberg (Source - Wikipedia)

The war raged on for years with the Aesir using their conventional weapons and their enemies mostly fighting with magic. Each side gaining the upper hand for a while, only to go on to lose ground to their opponents. They both realised that this could not go on so a truce was called and each sent hostages to live amongst their enemies, as was the custom of the time.

The Hostages

The Vanir sent Freya, her brother Freyr and their father Njord to go and live with their enemies and the Aesir send Hoenir and Mimir. The Vanir hostages were treated well in Asgard, who appointed Njord and Freyr as honoured priests and Freya as a priestess, charged with teaching her hosts the common magic of her land. However the Aesir gods that were sent to Vanaheim did not share the same fate.

Hoenir it seemed was a very wise person imparting great advice on any problem. What his hosts did not notice was that it was in fact Mimir who was the wise one and all the good advice was a result of his council. The two became separated but the Vanir continued to ask the slow witted Hoenir for advice, to which all he would reply was “let others decide”. After hearing this once too often the earth gods became enraged and believing they had been cheated in the exchange of hostages, beheaded the wise Mimir and sent his head and body back to the Aesir.

Odin stands by Mímir's beheaded body (1893) by Georg
Pauli (Source - Wikipedia)

On hearing the news, Odin was beside himself and had the head embalmed. He recited enchanted poems to prevent his trusted adviser from dying and so the dismembered head of Mimir would continue to give Odin wise council when he needed it the most. Not wishing to renew years of fighting over what was clearly a tragic misunderstanding, the leaders of the two tribes of gods came together and all of them spat into a cauldron, from which Kvasir, the wisest man ever to live, was born.


McCoy, D. [Internet]. 2012. The Aesir-Vanir War. Available from: [Accessed September 30, 2013].

Sheppard, N. [Internet]. 2012. The War of the Aesir and Vanir. Available from: [Accessed September 30, 2013].

The war between the Aesir and Vanir. [Internet]. 2013. Think Quest. Available from: [Accessed September 30, 2013].